Sunday Liturgy with His Grace Bishop Raphael of Ilion

Published on 25 January 2024 at 11:00

On Sunday 21st January 2024, the Orthodox parish of the Annunciation in Middlesborough had the joy of welcoming His Grace Bishop Raphael who celebrated the Divine Liturgy assisted by the Priest-in-Charge, Fr Nikita Banev. Bishop Raphael also welcomed Fr David Walker from the church of the Holy Apostles in Leyland, as a guest clergy taking part in the celebration.

Numerous faithful came to the service, including some of the founding members of the parish from 1976, whose great joy was to see their grandchildren receiving holy communion from the hands of Bishop Raphael.

The chanting was led by Mr Efstathios Mentzas, protopsaltis at the Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs in Leeds and by our lead singer Liliana Banev, both supported by the Edinburgh team who accompanied the Bishop.

  • Χερουβικός ύμνος - Ευστάθιος Μεντζάς
  • Communion chant - Liliana Banev

The visit concluded with a festive meal, prepared by the community, at which Bishop Raphael blessed the traditional vasilopita cakes.

Special thanks to everyone who contributed to the feast, and especially to Fr Paul, our host, who ensured that we had a warm room to hold the reception, despite the power cut!

Bishop Raphael's Sermon

In Edinburgh, we had a spiritual father, Fr John Maitland Moir. His life was prayer, an offering of love, unconditional love to all people.

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Fr John's life was a continuous prayer. I believe even when he spoke and worked, and did other practical things it was still the name -- the name of Jesus -- that was on his lips and in his mind. Except for the liturgical prayers, his usual prayer was: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy. He said it in this way so as not to exclude anyone from the prayer. 

Fr John didn't mind even risking his own reputation. Once he even begged for money. And people, some people thought it was for himself. He didn't explain why he was asking for money. It was for people who were in need. He didn't mind what people would think of him, as long as he was doing what pleased the Lord.

Fr John suffered a great deal in his life. Who doesn't? Who follows the Lord and doesn't suffer? That's a sign of a verification of calling. Fathers of the Church, like St. Sophrony say, if you suffer, not only should you not despair, or be discouraged, but give thanks to God, because suffering in Christ, and for his holy Name, is a sign of special visitation. You are being visited, being especially, personally, elected, when temptations and trials come to you. Don't feel that you are neglected by God. You are chosen by God, when you go through suffering. That's how Fr John also taught us. He used to tell us that nothing happens to us unless it is either God's will or God permits it. If God permits it or if it is His will, either way, we should thankfully accept what comes to us.

But at the end of his life, Fr John's prayer changed. I heard him one night saying, not the usual: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy! but in the bed of suffering, his deathbed almost, he said at night, almost throughout the night, Lord Jesus Christ, thank you! Lord Jesus Christ, thank you!

A life full of fruits, full of offerings, full of love, was drawing to an end, thankfully, gratefully, without any complaint.

That's why we trusted Fr John. We loved him and we considered him a treasure. We never heard a word of judgement from his mouth. Never! He never shared a grievance, a pain or complaint against anyone. We thought that everyone was good. Because for him, they were good.

This is what we are reminded of also in today's reading from the Gospel. When we say, Lord, Master, have mercy on me, we must not forget to say, Thank you, Lord! Just like the Samaritan did -- one of the ten lepers -- who, having been healed by the Lord, remembered to come back and give thanks to God.

Saint Paisios of the Holy Mountain once said, to pray with the words: Glory to you, O God! at the time of suffering, equals thousands of Lord have mercy at a time when we don't suffer.

Let us then make our life a thanksgiving, a life of gratefulness. Give thanks to God and remember to give thanks to people as well, to those who have helped us. Remembering to ring someone up, saying: Thank you for what you did for me 15 years ago, makes a lot of difference to our lives and to the lives of other people. 

Fr Zacharias of Essex Monastery says, if you don't have time to do anything else in the morning, just say these words as soon as you wake up and stand up. Turn to the icon of the Savior and say, Lord Jesus, thank you for everything.

One saintly father on the Holy Mountain told me about our elder in Scotland, Fr John, that since he completed the course of his life giving thanks to God, the athonite father said to me, don't be surprised if you see signs of sanctity; if he is holy, if his relics give off myrrh.

If someone reaches the point of giving thanks to God continuously, then he's very high in the spiritual life, in the life in Christ. The highest form of prayer, this holy father on the Holy Mountain told me, is giving thanks. Let us not forget to do it. At least once a day! And I'll give you a tip. If you forget to say, Lord, thank you for everything! when you wake up, when you open the door to leave the house and go to work or school or whatever else, give thanks then. That's a useful tip. Do not forget to give thanks. At least once a day. Your life will be sweetened by this eucharist.

I thank, first of all, our God, for the blessing that he gave us to be here together to serve the Eucharist, in Greek Eucharistia, Thanksgiving.

I also want to give thanks to all of you for coming, and especially to Father Nikitas, who has taken the ministry to look after you spiritually, to offer the unbloody sacrifice on behalf of you, and minister to God and to you with all his love and all his strength. Please give thanks to God for that and support him, support him with all your love.

We clergymen appear strong, but we're not as strong as we seem to be. We need you. We need most of all your prayers and your moral support. Who doesn't flourish if someone tells you how well you did today?

Also, I want to thank Fr Paul of this church who so kindly has hosted us here for many years. He did not lose hope in us and kept this chapel for us to return. So kindly, so warmly, so brotherly, in such Christian spirit. Thank you very much, Father Paul, and may God bless your own ministry,  your work, and your people. We are very grateful to you.

This is a new beginning. We want everyone to come. Tell your friends and your neighbours that there is an Orthodox Church here, which is open to all.

Fr Nikita's Response

I would also like to thank you, dear Bishop Raphael, for undertaking the journey to come from Edinburgh today, with the blessing of our Archbishop Nikitas. I also thank our friends the doctors Nikolas and Maria and your Edinburgh team for making your journey possible.

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My gratitude to you, dear Bishop Raphael, is for your help and friendship over many, many years. I recall that we first met in the year 2000 in the monastery in Essex. We both found our spiritual home there, in the monastery of St Sophrony. Over the years, God brought our paths closer and closer together until last December when you ordained me a priest for the church in Middlesbrough. Thank you so much for your support, for your love, for me personally for our family, for Esther, for Liliana, Anastasia and Symeon.

Thank you also for the love you have for this parish here to also come and celebrate the Divine Liturgy, to celebrate a thyranoixia and open the doors of the church. I have no words to describe my joy! We'll remember you both liturgically and in our hearts every day, at every service.

To everyone who is with us today I say, echoing your words: brothers and sisters, remember to give thanks daily, and remember to give thanks also for our bishop Raphael, and pray for him.